Mosquito Bite Prevention: A Review of the 9 Most Popular Methods
Photo Credit: bkaree@flickr
In my home state of Michigan, the mosquito bite has become "the mark of summer." It's seemingly impossible to enjoy a night outdoors without acquiring one or more of these "souvenirs" of the occasion. However, while difficult to prevent all together, some measures can be taken to reduce the number and severity of bites.
Keep 'em Away with Spray
DEET: Sprays and other topicals are the most popular bug deterrent. Aerosol sprays are probably the most popular and available repellents. And of these, most contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). DEET is generally considered the most effective insect repellent. Data is lacking, however, stacking it against other options. And, cautions are necessary in using it around children. Infants below 2 months of age should not use DEET and children should use lower concentrations. These recommendations come from a handful of reports over more than 50 years of use and involve tremors, psychological changes, seizures and even death. 1 Studies show that while 10% DEET products protect for around 2 hours and 24% DEET protects for 5 hours. Additional DEET concentrations did not yield longer or better protection.
Picardin: Another synthetic insect repellent available in the U.S., picardin, has been available for the last 9 years. This chemical mimics an irritant found in pepper. It is considered non-toxic in humans but make sure to keep it away from the eyes as it can cause quite a bit of discomfort. Picardin products are considered good for 2 hours and some sources consider this about as effective as 10% DEET. It can be used in children but studies are lacking to recommend use in infants.
Essential Oils: Essential oil products from natural sources like citronella, cedar, eucalyptus and soybeans offer more on the side of safety. They are considered good for a couple hours and safe for use. Comparative studies with these products are lacking however to make any statements about efficacy.
In general, aerosol sprays, sticks and lotions give comparable application and efficacy. Aerosols, however, are more easily inhaled and exposed to the eyes. Aerosols, on the other hand, can be more easily applied to clothing and less irritating to the skin. Wrist bands with heavy doses of repellent are not considered effective as protecting the whole body. Another important note is that DEET can reduce SPF protection in sunscreen when applied to the skin, so caution should be practiced when both are used together.
Environmental agents work to protect a zone from mosquitoes rather than an individual.
Mosquito Magnets: Mosquito magnet devices produce carbon dioxide and use chemical attractants to bring in and trap mosquitoes. The trouble with these devices is that although they produce a cup of mosquito corpses, this may be the tip of the iceberg and they may attract mosquitoes into the zone from outlying areas.
Bug Zappers: Bug zappers, likewise, provide little more than entertainment and virtually nothing to reduce biting insects.
Citronella Candles: Citronella candles add an unpleasant aroma to an environment to help reduce mosquito numbers. he smell may be disliked by people also, however. I happen to like the smell.
Mosquito Bombs: Bombing and saturating your environment with chemical killers should be considered a last resort for preventing bites.
Yard Care: Practical environmental considerations can be quite effective. Mosquitoes breed in small stands of open water. Filling in puddles and cleaning gutters can make a big difference.
Supplements: Vitamin supplementation with B1 and garlic consumption are felt by some to detract reduce mosquito bites, but have not been shown by studies to be helpful.
Reducing Bite Severity and Risk of Complications
Despite all the prevention in the world, mosquito bites still happen. 24-hour, non-sedating antihistamines (Claritin, Zyrtec, Allegra) have been shown in studies to reduce the size and itch intensity of mosquito bites. They do this by dampening the body's histamine response to the mosquito's saliva. (My review of the most popular mosquito itch relief methods here.)
If you are traveling to an area outside the country where malaria is prevalent, it is important to take preventative medications. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an up-to-date website where you and your doctor can determine if medication is needed and which one would be appropriate. It can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/. No specific prevention exists for reducing west nile virus other than preventing bites.
Several options are available to help prevent mosquito bites. Topical agents carry different levels of risk and benefit. The best environmental reduction in mosquitoes involves addressing potential breeding grounds by removing standing water sources. For anticipated bites, a pro-active antihistamine can reduce severity.
Have a fun, safe and healthy summer!
DEET Chemical Technical Survey for Public Health and Public Safety Professionals, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Dec 6 2004.